Posted by: Michael Zakhar
Greetings and a happy 2016 to you all. To those of you who achieved success this past year: Congratulations. But now is the time to forget about your hard-won victories (and agonizing defeats) and prepare for success in the coming year. I’ve given some thought about 2015 and where I’d like to improve, and I have come up with some fantasy baseball new year’s resolutions. I hope some of this will resonate with you and inspire some positive thoughts. Most of all, I wish you all a great new year with plenty of luck (unless you are facing me). Let’s get to those resolutions.
Don’t overvalue players that are “safe” – One of the tried and tested fantasy baseball clichés is that you can’t win your league with your first round pick but you can certainly lose it. Fantasy writers will frequently recommend prioritizing the floor in the early rounds and then taking your risks later in the draft. Heck, I’m sure I wrote something like that myself. When I was drafting in the second half of the first round, I used my first two picks on “safe” players like Adam Jones and Robinson Cano rather than the players that took home MVP hardware, Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson. These players were all ranked in my top 10-20 range, and I used safeness and track record as a tiebreaker, ignoring small signs of decline by Jones and Cano and focusing on the uncertainty of the players I passed over (e.g. Harper’s injury history). I found out the hard way: Players are “safe” until they’re not.
When I was younger and (arguably) less wise, I had an adage of my own: Keep drafting players who could finish on top of the player rater until there aren’t any left. Now I grant you, this sounds unscientific and probably embarrassingly subjective on a site like this; but last year that meant passing on Adam Jones and taking Bryce Harper or showing some guts on Manny Machado instead of taking Evan Longoria. It also meant taking Puig *cough cough*.
So this year you might find some big payoffs in the early rounds by taking players like Mookie Betts and George Springer over “reliable” players like Edwin Encarnacion. I’d take a stab at a healthy Giancarlo Stanton or Miguel Cabrera in the first round. And by God, I’m going once more unto the Puig.
Give good hitters a second chance – Players like Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, and Prince Fielder were staples of the first two rounds for years, but all three fell on hard times which reduced their cost. Though some indicators suggested they were done, all three turned a profit for those who took a chance on them in 2015. So while a safe guy like Cano burned you being selected in the second round of your 2015 draft, he is worth a close look if you find him sitting there in round five. Fun Fact: The player who had the most balls he hit over 100 mph that were recorded for an out – Robinson Cano. Likewise, Adam Jones looks like he took a step back on the surface, but the main reason his numbers are not as impressive was a lower number of plate appearances. Don’t hold a grudge against a good player that burned you; they can bring home the hardware in 2016.
Draft young starters – Think about some of the arms that you will covet the most in your fantasy league this year. Here are a few of mine: Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber. If you are not into those pitchers, you might prefer Jake Arrieta, Chris Archer, or Jacob deGrom. What do they have in common, besides being filthy? They were very reasonably priced one year ago, and were draft day afterthoughts the year before. It doesn’t seem like it’s much of an uphill climb to fantasy acedom these days. All around baseball strikeouts are up, velocity is up, and young starters like these are leading the charge. In the middle rounds, I’m looking to take second or third year pitchers who can make a big step up the draft board: Lance McCullers, Carlos Rodon and Taijuan Walker for starters.
Consider league context more often – Though I don’t anticipate reading this as frequently as in year’s past, the “Don’t draft starting pitching until late” articles really messed with my head. In some drafts it was almost as if I was daring myself: “Can I get by with Gio Gonzalez as my 2?” (Answer: Of course not.) The biggest headache I gave myself was in a Yahoo! head to head league where Drew Hutchison was suddenly the best option as my third starter. Starting pitchers always goes fast in this league, plus the Yahoo settings make it sensible to have 10 bats and 12 starters. I felt too confident in my ability to put together a staff with the likes of Hutchison, the afore mentioned Rodon, Shane Greene, and Nate Eovaldi, but when they didn’t work out — I was screwed. In the traditional 13/9 split in most roto leagues, I could have probably found better options on waivers or gotten some middle relief help to get by. But this league demanded starting pitching quality and quantity. You probably don’t need a reminder, but it can’t hurt for me to say that you need to keep league rules and settings in the top of your mind come draft day.
To that end, while it is my primary duty to monitor and advise on saves in the Closer Report, I’m guessing many of you who frequent this site are in some crazy deep or dynasty leagues, so I will try to provide more advice, tips, and recommendations for overlooked middle relievers and the like.
Remember The Draft Is Not Everything – This sounds like sacrilege on the surface. I do not dispute that the day of your draft is the most important day in the league, and we all do enough prep to the point where we wear ourselves out. However, it is getting harder and harder to find a big edge on draft day, isn’t it? The mark in your league five years ago probably reads Fangraphs now, analyzes park factors, and knows the difference between FIP and xFIP. After the draft, have a nice exhale (and maybe a beer or two), but be aware your work is not done, even if you had the draft of your dreams. I think being as diligent and analytical about in-season pick ups as we are before the draft is a step in the right direction. If a hitter hits a home run in three straight games, we are more likely to say “Well he hit three home runs, might as well take a shot at it;” then we waste a few weeks on said player waiting for him to do something when we’d have been better off looking the other way in the first place. Be aggressive, but make the right moves. Most important, make the right moves for your team.
Find new MLB managers to make fun of – One of the great joys of writing the Closer Report was analyzing managerial decision making; this means I got to make fun of Matt Williams and Lloyd McClendon a whole bunch. Matt Williams’s unwillingness to budge from assigned roles (“Why did I bring him in? The seventh inning is his inning.”) was the worst I’d seen since Ron Gardenhire would bat back-up catcher Mike Redmond third when Joe Mauer had the day off. Meanwhile Lloyd McClendon’s bizarre excuses for keeping Fernando Rodney as Seattle’s closer were just as scoff-worthy and even more entertaining. Both Williams and McClendon were fired at the end of the season, and deservedly so, but what about my entertainment and column material? At least my buddy Brad Ausmus is still around, Terry Collins showed great promise in the postseason after being remarkably competent for much of the year, and who knows what the recent round of managerial hires will bring?
Have fun – There is plenty to analyze and lots of thinking to do, but the most important thing to remember about fantasy baseball is that it’s supposed to be fun. So I’m going to try and keep things in perspective, even in my hometown league where I get a little fired up. If I’m choosing between Rick Porcello and Nate Eovaldi, I’m taking Eovaldi because that’s the guy I’m rooting for. And I’m going to make sure there is a lot of play in the work I’m putting in. I hope you all continue to have fun as you play the fantasy game in months and years ahead, because if you’re not having fun…what’s the point, right?
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